Houston’s Look botches return to previous glory

Whitney Houston’s last successful CD was released in 1998. I Look To You has been highly anticipated since the commercial disappointment in 2002.

The anticipation has built up for seven years, the world in desperate need for Whitney to divorce Bobby Brown and grace the universe again. Whitney had the best-selling album by a female artist as well as the first female artist whose album debuted at the top spot on the Billboard 200.

But that was a different person in a different time. Without any context, this album would not get much attention. There is a serious gap between the Whitney Houston who sang “Didn’t We Almost Have It All” and this new one. This album lacks all the star power for which she is famous. The entire affair is slightly underwhelming and more than a little unexciting. This is quite unfortunate for her, because while there are many shudder-inducing songs in her body of work, none of them are on this album.

Gone is the Whitney of “I Have Nothing” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Say hello to a Whitney that smells of nostalgia and melancholy. This album is an utter disappointment, fit for a D-List, talentless hack.

Somehow Akon got on this album. Think David and Goliath, but sad. Akon has nothing on Whitney, past or present.

The album’s production ranges from pedestrian to really quite good. “Nothin’ But Love,” “For the Lovers” and “I Got You” are all well produced, with interesting sound design not usual of a typical R&B album. They take the focus off Whitney’s voice, which is a good thing.

Whitney’s voice is an imitation’s shadow of its previous punching, pounding power. It sounds like rocks in a sack, compared to what it once was. Some would argue that her voice has “matured” appropriately for a 46-year-old. Others argue that her lifestyle is to blame. Regardless, it sounds years beyond what it should.

Because Whitney’s voice has exponentially aged, gone are the “gear shifts” for which she is famous: those unnecessary, yet amazing key changes that take an ordinary song and make it soar (see “I Will Always Love You” and “I Have Nothing”). This album should be vocally unchallenging for Whitney, however she sounds strained and even in pain much too frequently.

If you can get over Whitney’s voice, then the more subtle aspects of the album can be heard. really is not too bad, aside from Whitney’s voice. It is a disappointment, but from many other artists, this album would be something of which to be proud.

It is underwhelming, yes, but only when great expectations are expected to be met like they have in the past. This album is much slower and requires time to get into its groove. No song here is good enough to be a classic, but there are a couple of nice ones.

“Million Dollar Bill” is the most Top 40-friendly. It has a great groove and at least a whisper of Whitney’s old abilities. There is a funky guitar going in there and driving drums to keep it going. It does not sound restrained by Whitney’s new voice, like almost all the others do.

However, it is still obvious she’s just not what she used to be. There are no other songs like this one on the album, which is a shame because she struck gold with it.

“I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” is a piano ballad, a poor decision because there’s nowhere for her voice to hide. The cracks and wheezes comes out in full force. The song itself is all right, but this is where Whitney’s voice sounds perhaps its worst. This song is ripe for some huge runs and incredible gear shifts, but instead lacks this titular strength. It is a sadder version of “The Greatest Love of All.”

This album features a disappointing version of Whitney’s voice. However, there are some good elements worth hearing. It does take a while to get beyond how far her voice has fallen. There are no big bombastic songs like the Whitney of before, but there are some mid-tempo grooves. There is nothing innovative here.

Do not expect the Whitney you know and love because you will be disappointed. Consult YouTube and your personal music collection for when you want to hear some real Whitney. Realize that this is something different that is not as good.